Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome back to Around the Rim.
Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of a town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices and trendy issues. We’ve had over 500 unique contributors working at any and every outlet you can think of living all across the globe.
The roundtable runs every week, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped in for the current edition. Last week’s edition can be found here.
This week, we are fortunate to have four dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
Garrett Chorpenning: Clipperholics, editor
Gunnar Conway: Sir Charles in Charge, contributor
Brandon Shrider: Sentinel-Tribune, sports editor
Brandon Warne: Zone Coverage Minnesota, reporter
Last week Carmelo Anthony said he believes the Denver Nuggets should retire his jersey. That conversation has been had but looking around the league, how many current players do you think are getting their jerseys retired if they call it quits tomorrow?
Chorpenning: I did some digging and came up with a list of 23 players that I think could have their numbers retired when it’s all said and done. That includes: Derrick Rose (Chicago), Kemba Walker (Charlotte), LeBron James (Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami), Kevin Durant (Golden State, Oklahoma City), Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala (Golden State), James Harden (Houston), Chris Paul (Los Angeles), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles), DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles), Mike Conley (Memphis), Marc Gasol (Memphis), Udonis Haslem, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony (New York), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City), Dwight Howard (Orlando), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio, Toronto), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Kyle Lowry (Toronto) and Vince Carter (Toronto).
Conway: Individual Success: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul, James Harden. Russell Westbrook (OKC), Kawhi Leonard (SA), Marc Gasol, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard (Orlando and absolutely nowhere else), Anthony Davis (New Orleans).
Team Success: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love (Cavs), Kyrie Irving (Cavs), Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Carmelo Anthony (NY), Mike Conley.
I chose to put players into two separate categories: those who are historically great, and players who, while not as accomplished, meant a lot to their respective franchises. Some players have the accomplishments to have their jersey retired wherever they played (i.e Kevin Durant). And others lack the individual accolades but were crucial pieces in successful eras for the team (i.e., Kevin Love).
The players in the first category are the players we’re all familiar with who have a multitude of awards. Players like LeBron, KD, Kawhi, and Steph have established themselves as legendary talents characterized individual awards as well as being the best player on a championship team. While players like Harden, Westbrook, and Giannis have established a worthy legacy even though they are yet to accomplish their team’s ultimate goal.
The second category mostly consists of players that were part of successful eras for their teams. Such as the Lob City Clippers, Grit N’ Grind Grizzlies, and Cleveland’s only champion in over 50 years. Several of these players were second or third options, but they sacrificed individual stats for winning.
Shrider: Carmelo Anthony was a premier draft pick and a league-wide star while playing for the Denver Nuggets. However, he played just 7 1/2 seasons in Denver before spending another 6 1/2 in New York. If we were to predict jersey retirements based on the requirements established by Melo, I think we could look at a couple dozen active players getting their jerseys retired.
But if we want to narrow the list down and try to pinpoint the players most likely to have their jersey retired by a team(s), the following 17 players seem like the best bets if they were to call it quits tomorrow: Carmelo Anthony (Nuggets), Derrick Rose (Bulls), LeBron James (Cavs & Heat), Steph Curry (Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Draymond Green (Warriors), Marc Gasol (Grizzlies), Mike Conley (Grizzlies), Udonis Haslem (Heat), James Harden (Rockets), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), Dwight Howard (Magic), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), John Wall (Wizards) and DeMar DeRozan (Raptors).
Each of those players are either “lifers” with their respective organizations, or spent a significant portion of their career there and have some sort of notable playoff moments with that team. If we really wanted to reach, other names thrown around in the conversation could include Blake Griffin, Al Horford, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul (Hornets or Clippers), Paul George and Vince Carter (Raptors or Nets).
Warne: I mean, I think you almost have to if you’re the Nuggets, right? He’s fifth in franchise history in win shares and every player ahead of him has their number retired by the organization, as well as Fat Lever behind him. As for current active players if they call it quits tomorrow…let’s see…what makes it a little difficult is we have to ask ourselves why a player called it quits. Injury? Off-court issues? For the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume it’s a good thing. LeBron, Cleveland (seems easy to me); Carmelo, Denver (as noted above, sure); Curry, Golden State; Harden, Houston; Lillard, Portland; Durant, multiple teams possibly; Westbrook, Thunder, maybe Houston, eventually, but way premature; DeRozan, Raptors? Wall, Wizards. I don’t know, I’m kind of wracking my brain to think of anyone else…maybe Aldridge and Portland? Klay and Golden State? I’m not super good at the barometer for whose number should be retired in the NBA.
Is Bucks-Lakers the best regular season game on paper to start the season. If not, which regular season game were you or are you more excited for?
Conway: From a talent standpoint, it’s Lakers vs. Bucks. LeBron and Anthony Davis is one of, if not the best, duos in the NBA and Giannis has been the best defensive player in the League and is making a strong case for another MVP. Milwaukee definitely has a stronger supporting cast than Los Angeles, but Giannis will only be able to guard one of the Lakers’ superstars. Hopefully, this game will make more people realize that Milwaukee is the real deal. They lead the League in points per game, they’re first in defensive rating, pace and SRS. And they recently won 18 games in a row, an undoubtedly impressive streak that received less attention than Alex Caruso. They only play each other twice in the regular season, so it’s a must-see for NBA fans.
Another game I’m looking forward to is Celtics vs. Clippers on February 13. The two teams met in mid-November and the game ended with a Clippers win in OT. They’re relatively similar in terms of talent, and they offer terrific matchups at point guard at both forward spots. Lastly, I’m excited for KAT vs. Joel Embiid II, almost entirely to see how they handle themselves after their last encounter.
Shrider: Thursday’s intra-conference matchup between the Bucks and Lakers has to be the best early season bout to start the season. A potential NBA Finals preview, the matchup features two of the four leading MVP candidates in LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo and head-and-shoulders the two best teams through the first third of the season. There is not much of an argument against LA having the more dominant 1-2 punch between LeBron and Anthony Davis, but the Bucks’ depth and lethality from the perimeter have it designed as a Magic-esque roster during the Dwight Howard era — which knocked off a LeBron-led Cavaliers team during the 2008-09 playoffs.
The Lakers-Clippers game in the season opener had some appeal as well due to the offseason shake ups in Los Angeles, but with Paul George, Kyle Kuzma and others missing, and both teams with limited reps featuring their new stars, the battle-of-LA lost its luster at the start of the year.
Warne: I think it has to be. I mean you look at the Lakers who have lost once since early November against the Bucks who’d won 18 straight before losing to Dallas on Monday night, and it seems like a pretty easy choice. It’ll be hyped up as a possible NBA Finals matchup and the kind of game you’d expect to watch on Christmas Day, but I think I speak for a lot of people who’ll be interested in this one. For me the separate conferences makes it that much more interesting since they’ll play so infrequently otherwise.
Chorpenning: I think so. At this point, Bucks-Lakers is looking like the most likely Finals matchup, and I can’t remember the last time two teams met in the regular season with records like that. I think Clippers-Lakers to begin the season was the best game so far this season, and I’m still looking forward to seeing those two teams face off again on Christmas, but Bucks – Lakers gets the edge right now. It should tell us a lot about where each team is at and what changes they might still need to make before the trade deadline.
Last week on HOOP’s Hot Takes and Shot Fakes podcast, Jabari Davis and I discussed the most disappointing players this season. Alternatively, who have been the most exciting players for you to watch this season?
Shrider: Luka Doncic is incredible. It wasn’t long ago that there were rumblings that Doncic was a risk because he played in a professional league overseas as opposed to against college freshmen for a year. Now, avoiding a sophomore slump, Doncic is averaging nearly a 30-point triple-double organically, while shooting just over 48 percent from the field. It’s hard not to enjoy Doncic’s all-around game, and he and Porzingis may be the best young inside-out duo in the League.
And of course there is LeBron James. The best player in the League for more than a decade, the greatest player of all time and currently immersed in the MVP conversation yet again. Every year, LeBron’s name is in the conversation for the League’s best scorer and best passer and it shows with his current pace to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and top-five in assists. It is much of the same this season. LeBron is leading the League in assists with more than 10 per game for the first time in his career, lobbing oops to his assortment of athletic bigs and finding both shooters and cutters with the ease that has helped shape his career. And while his 26.1 points per game is among the lowest of his career, he’s still doing so with a plus-50 efficiency from the field while sporting a 36.5 mark from deep. The efficiency, selflessness, athleticism and dominance that has defined his career is still exciting to watch in Year 17.
One last player I’ve enjoyed watching is Draymond Green. Not due to thunderous dunks or postseason genital kicks, but for the ineptitude of the easiest player to root against in the NBA. The first player to run his mouth when things are going well, Green—without the two best shooters in the history of the sport by his side—is scoring just 9 points per game while averaging his fewest rebounds since becoming a full-time starter and his fewest assists since his first season as a starter. To make the season that much more exciting, Green is shooting 41 percent from the field, including a laughable 26.5 from deep while leading the Warriors to the worst record in the NBA.
Warne: For the sake of simplicity, I’ll leave out the obvious ones like the Greek Freak, etc. since their appeal is so widespread. One guy who I’ve really enjoyed watching is Devonte’ Graham of Charlotte. He leads the NBA in scoring differential from last year to this year—almost 15 more points per game!—and is just playing all-around better basketball across the board. I also think watching the continued growth of Trae Young with Atlanta has been fun. He’s another one on that scoring differential list—up from 19.1 PPG to 27.8—while being asked to play more than last year as a rookie. I also like guys who kind of change it up. Bigs like Brandon Ingram, who has also taken a leap forward and is averaging 25 points and seven boards but also multiple 3s at over 40 percent per game. He’s also really cleaned up his free-throw shooting.
Chorpenning: Luka Doncic is the obvious answer here, but for the sake of keeping things fresh I’m going to go with Bam Adebayo. I’ve been really high on him since the end of the 2018-2019 season, and he’s only improved since then. He’s recorded two triple-doubles in the past week alone and he’s one of the biggest reasons why the Miami Heat have been playing so well this season. Pascal Siakam is another guy that I’ve really enjoyed watching.
Conway: Luka and Giannis are two of my favorites. They’re generational talents that have established themselves as superstars, currently MVP candidates that pick apart opponents on a nightly basis. That said, I think Devonte’ Graham is the most exciting player to watch. Charlotte was never particularly fun to watch, then Kemba left, and I assumed it would be even worse. And oh man, was I wrong, Devonte’ Graham has been lighting it up. He has one of the best on/off differentials in the League and has gone from an underwhelming backup to a legitimate offensive threat. He’s everything the front office hoped Terry Rozier would be and then some. Charlotte has another chance to build around a genuinely talented young player. Hopefully, they’ll be luckier in the lottery this time around.
The bottom of the Western Conference playoff race is a mess, two wins separates the seventh and 12th seeds. Out of Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Minnesota, San Antonio and Portland, which team, if any, do you see playing significantly better basketball in 2020?
Warne: Minnesota’s defense—and keep in mind, this is the team I root for so I want them to be good—terrifies me. No team is allowing more points per game in December. But to me, Oklahoma City and Sacramento seem to be the better bets based on how their defense has looked this month. They both rank in the top 10 in the NBA since Dec. 1 in points per game allowed. They’re both top 10 for the season as well, but I think it bodes well that they’ve each shaved 2-3 points off their season averages and are heading in the right direction as we move toward New Year’s.
Chorpenning: I could see Sacramento and San Antonio start trending up before too long, and maybe Portland as well. Sacramento’s health has been one of their biggest issues so far, but with Marvin Bagley III and De’Aaron Fox’s recent return, we should finally get a chance to see what these guys can do at full strength. In the meantime, Richaun Holmes, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic have done a solid job of keeping the team afloat. I think the Spurs’ worst is behind them too, but they’ll need to figure things out soon with a tough schedule coming up. And for Portland, I just have a hard time betting against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, even if the rest of the team has been meh. Their schedule isn’t as tough as Sacramento or San Antonio’s either, so that should help them out.
Conway: My initial thought was Phoenix. They have exceeded everyone’s expectations, even though DeAndre Ayton was suspended for 25 games early in the season. However, Ayton’s return could lead to Aron Baynes losing minutes, and he’s been terrific so far. Also, they have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule, so they could easily fall out of their current spot.
San Antonio would theoretically improve by trading either DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge. The team is significantly worse when they’re playing together, and losing either could be addition by subtraction. The current Spurs roster isn’t letting Pop be Pop, and the front office needs to recognize that.
I think Sacramento and Portland will improve as the season goes on. Both have seen injuries to key pieces, so I’m not too concerned with their recent shortcomings. Sacramento has lost both Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox to injuries at separate times and has still managed to hold onto the seven-seed. Portland is missing production from both Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic, and they’ve proved to be a contender when everyone’s healthy. Other teams could change their outlook through trades, but the most likely outcome is improving after overcoming various injuries.
While the race for the remaining playoff spots is a mess at the moment, the field tends to whittle down as time passes. Players get hurt, teams make trades and some opt to tank. As of now, it feels like everything can change at any moment.
Shrider: I think the easiest choice here is Portland, but Phoenix could certainly surprise in the second half, too. Portland’s two stars of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is better than any other duo at the bottom of the Western Conference, so if I were to bank on a turnaround, I’d put my money on the Trail Blazers’ dynamic backcourt duo. But with Phoenix getting Deandre Ayton back in the mix, the Suns could slowly start to make some noise with a Booker-Ayton duo primed to be a force both now and in the future.
As the decade comes to an end, the most memorable moment of basketball between January 1, 2010 and now was…
Chorpenning: The homer in me is saying the first-round matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers in 2015. The Spurs came into the series as the defending champions, downing the Miami Heat 4-1 in the previous Finals. Meanwhile, the Clippers were in the midst of the Lob City era and playing some of the best basketball in franchise history. It was a back-and-forth series that went to seven games, and it ended with Chris Paul hitting the go-ahead bucket over Tim Duncan and Danny Green. The Spurs got one final possession, a lob to Kawhi Leonard, but Matt Barnes swatted it away to secure the win. The whole scene was incredible.
Conway: This might be recency bias, but I’m going Kawhi’s game seven buzzer-beater against Philadelphia. He caught the inbound pass, dribbled past Ben Simmons, pulled up over Embiid, crouched as the ball bounced off of the rim four (4) times, then let out a yell that showed more emotion than ever before. That shot embodied everything about that unlikely playoff run. Kawhi was able to do everything the team needed him to whenever something needed to be done. He helped take down Simmons & Embiid, The Greek Freak, and defeated the dynastic Warriors in one of the most dominant playoff performances ever. The combination of who they beat and Kawhi only playing one year makes the 2019 Raptors one of the league’s most memorable champions.
Shrider: I think everyone could have a different “most memorable moment” from the start of the decade until now. But for me personally, the 2016 Finals will be unforgettable. I was at Game 3 in Cleveland when LeBron stumbled in transition and then flipped the ball to a streaking Kyrie before elevating for an alley-top dunk. The 41-point games from LeBron and Kyrie in Game 5 to ignite the 3-1 comeback. The block on Iguodala in the final minutes of Game 7. The career-ending dunk that LeBron nearly had on Draymond Green, before sinking the title-clinching free throw. And LeBron’s immediate postgame interview, fighting back tears and screaming “Cleveland, this is for you!” The emotions in that moment were some of the best for me as a sports fanatic and will never be forgotten.
Warne: Is LeBron bringing Cleveland their first ring in 2015-16 too simple of an answer? Maybe him going to Miami?